Choices & Challenges - Erin & Kate's journey to a family

By Hannah Latham, Editor of We Are Family Magazine

First Published in We Are Family Magazine, www.wearefamilymagazine.co.uk
 
Having kids was part of the package from the second date for Erin and Katie. Once their relationship was established they pushed ahead with plans to start a family. The couple are now the proud parents of a beautiful daughter, Maisie, but they had no idea it would take three years, all their savings, months of therapy and the heartache of two miscarriages to get there. The conception also turned out differently to how they’d planned…
 
When they met, Erin was 38 and really wanted to have a child. Katie could see herself as a parent but was not interested in being pregnant. It was the perfect match. Erin had a friend in London (Tim) who had approached her about becoming a dad. They invited Tim over for the weekend with his boyfriend, Blaise; the four of them got on famously and started meeting regularly to talk about parenting. They discussed everything: their upbringings, discipline, education, schoolyard bullying, culture. They would, after all, make a diverse family: Erin and Blaise are American, Tim is Dutch and Katie is English. They also needed to consider the geographical logistics between Portslade and London.
 
Teasing out everybody’s expectations took time as it often can in co-parenting
arrangements. They laid out their expectations and found as they did so some of
their needs changed. At this stage Erin and Katie went to a therapist to establish if co-parenting was for them. They were still seeing the therapist eight months later. So although exciting, the discussion process was long and emotional.
 
“The boys wanted to discuss their involvement,” says Erin. “We were really worried as we wanted to be the primary parents. We imagined having the child 90% of the time with them parenting 10% of the time.” “We thought they’d want more then that,” Katie continues, “but they were really worried – they’d imagined a similar split but thought we’d want them involved more.” They had an awkward discussion. “Tim nervously suggested a split of 85% us parenting, 15% them parenting”, says Erin. “We were like great, yeah, it’s a deal!”
 
The two couples also considered drawing up a pre-conception agreement through a solicitor, outlining the terms of their arrangement; who has how much responsibility, where the child lives and who takes what role.
 
The law protects the best interests of the child so such documents are not legally binding: they would only be taken into consideration if things went to court. For this reason they decided against it. “We came to the conclusion that you couldn’t ever cover every scenario; we’d have to have a bit of trust in one another,” says Erin. “So long as we communicate and are honest about our feelings, we’ll be alright.”
 
It was decision time. After a lovely day all together, Erin and Katie texted the boys asking them to be the daddies. “They were on the train. Blaise burst into tears! They had a cuddle and it happened to be Father’s Day so it was the greatest Father’s Day present,” says Erin.
 
It was all systems go. Erin had some tests through the NHS. Erin and Katie planned to go to a clinic as it would give them the best chance to conceive and they could legally both be on the birth certificate. The tests gave Erin the green light, but to be sure she had her ovarian reserve checked at a private clinic – a test not offered on the NHS. The result was awful. It came back as ‘critically low’ – she had very few eggs left and those that she did have wouldn’t take or would end up with abnormalities. “I was in shock,” says Erin. “My periods were a little irregular but not much. The scary thing is the tests on the NHS were positive. I could have been trying for years.” Their only option was for Erin to have IVF with donor eggs. Katie then had tests. “Ironically my fertility rate was really high,” she says.
 
Katie decided to donate her eggs to Erin. This would save a lot of money as donor eggs are expensive. Erin would still get to carry the child and one of them would still be genetically related to their child.
 
Complications forced the couple to move to a London clinic. The travelling added extra stress to the already stressful experience of IVF. Both women went on strong hormone treatment – Katie in preparation for egg harvesting and Erin to prepare her body for having the fertilised embryos implanted. The drugs can cause serious physical and emotional side effects. “We were both batty,” says Erin. They were also administering the daily hormone treatment themselves – Katie’s by injection, Erin, who is phobic of needles, had pills. When they added injections into her backside to her plan she was in tears. Katie had to do them for her. The sheet explaining how to avoid the sciatic nerve did not help with Erin’s anxiety levels. They got through it and the first egg was implanted. After two weeks the pregnancy test was negative. Erin and Katie were upset but Tim and Blaise were optimistic and positive. The second attempt was a success. Everyone was over the moon.
 
Erin felt symptoms and everything went well until week seven when she had a scan (they do them early in IVF pregnancies). They couldn’t find a heartbeat. “They told us to come back in a week because it happens and can be wrong. I think they were trying to be optimistic,” says Erin. They went home and did some research and suspected she was no longer pregnant. With heavy hearts they got a blood test. It confirmed she’d had “a missed miscarriage” – the foetus had died but her body was yet to flush it out.
 
Erin was devastated. She was given three options: a pill that would cause a miscarriage in the next couple of days, to have the foetus removed in hospital, or to go home and let the miscarriage happen naturally. “I was so upset. I just wanted to go home.” So she did. A week later nothing had happened despite her still feeling pregnant. “That bit felt so cruel,” she recalls, “the nausea was still there as my body was still full of hormones.” She couldn’t take any more and went in to hospital to have the foetus removed. It was a difficult time for everyone.
 
Erin picked herself up and gave IVF another try but it didn’t take. Having spent several thousand pounds already, the pressure was on. They discussed their options and for the first time Katie considered pregnancy. They had embryos on ice, which had “cost a fortune”, but the fee for implantation was small.
Katie decided to give IVF a go. Two embryos were implanted and two weeks later she was pregnant. “I was relieved but in shock,” she says.
 
Normal pregnancy symptoms kicked in: feeling sick and tired. The date for her early scan came up and as they knew this was normal proceedure, Katie trundled off up to London on her own, unprepared for what they were about to discover. The scan showed two heartbeats – twins! “It was amazing. I couldn’t believe it,” she says. She phoned Erin who was in total disbelief, then elated. This solved the problem of siblings. They’d be tired but they wouldn’t have to face IVF and pregnancy later.
 
Everyone adjusted to the idea and the couple thought about moving house as their two-bedroom home in Portslade was quite small. But then at around nine weeks Katie started getting painful cramps and blood-spotting. After Erin’s miscarriage they feared the worst. Could it possibly be happening again? After everything they’d been through? Were they about to lose a second pregnancy and twins too…?
 
It was a Saturday night after a busy day working a stand at an art fair (Erin’s other passion is for her art). They were in bed early. Katie got up with a sense of urgency. “Oh God, something’s happening,” she said, waddling to the bathroom. Erin watched, panic setting in. “I saw blood rise up to her panty line, over and down – nothing but blood. It was horrific. Never mind the pregnancy and losing the babies, I thought she was going to die.”
 
They suspected a miscarriage but didn’t know what they should do. Erin phoned a gynaecologist friend. “She said, ‘forget about the babies, you need to think about Katie. If she’s really pale get her to hospital.’” Katie was slumped on the bathroom floor in a pool of blood with no colour in her face. They drove straight to A&E where she was admitted to the early pregnancy unit. A miscarriage was confirmed but it was the weekend and there were no staff to do a scan and find out exactly what was going on inside. “They said they didn’t want to get our hopes up but the cervix wasn’t open,” says Erin. “If the cervix is open everything comes out.” They were sent home, told to rest and let the miscarriage run its course.
 
“I was devastated,” Erin says. “We had no money left. It was done. We’d have to adopt.”
“But I had a really strong feeling I was still pregnant,” says Katie.
 
They got home at 4am and spent the rest of the weekend holed up. Tim and Blaise were also upset. They then had an agonising two-day wait for a scan. Back in hospital they dimmed the lights. Erin gripped Katie’s hand. The first thing they saw was the spot where an embryo had come away. Then, there it was, the other embryo, intact with a strong heartbeat. “It was amazing one was alive after all that,” says Erin.
 
The next couple of weeks were torturous. Katie was a mess. Bleeding on and off she was obsessed with checking the blood was brown, not bright red (the sign of a miscarriage). She also had severe morning sickness. They had a scan at just over 11 weeks and were told their baby had grown, was a healthy size and all was well.
 
The debate about finding out the sex of the baby had been long. With Tim outnumbered, it was decided they’d wait until the birth, but after everything Katie had been through she felt she’d be able to connect more with the baby if she knew. Everyone understood. At the 20-week scan they were told it was a girl.
 
The pregnancy continued without any more scares. The due date was the 1st of May, but things kicked off a few days early and after an initially fast labour, then a ventouse delivery, Maisie Marie JoAnne Parker Burns was born at 7.35am on 29th April 2012, weighing 8lbs 8oz.